A few of weeks ago I had organised to go visit a friend from Holland for a few days, and she was determined to show me something other then just Amsterdam. So a couple of days before I was due to arrive I received a message announcing that she has found something super exciting for us to do the day that I arrived – Sinterklaas Feest. Equally as excited as she appeared to be, I asked what it was exactly, to which she said, “Oh, it’s this festival for this old man who gives children presents!” My immediate reaction to this was, “What the fuck? That’s seriously the creepiest thing I have ever heard! Why is this a thing?” Then I said his name out loud – Sinterklaas – sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That’s when I realised two things; firstly, Santa really is just some old creepy guy who gives kids presents, and that my entire childhood up until the age of eleven has now been ruined; and secondly, this guy was the original Santa Claus!
So here’s the back story: Saint Nicholas, a Turkish Priest was an extremely kind hearted man, who was quite generous to the children of Holland. He spent some time in the Netherlands, but eventually went to live in Spain. However, every year in mid November, he returns to continue his tradition of giving gifts to the children of Holland. Accompanying him is his trusted helpers known as Zwarte Pieten – which in English translates to Black Peters’. These guys are portrayed by white Dutch guys and girls who wear old fashioned Joker like clothes and paint their face dark brown paint. Yes, and to anyone who isn’t Dutch, this looks very fucked up (excuse the language). In fact this particular representation is currently under investigation by the UN, for obvious reasons, along the lines of racism and slavery. I have been assured however, that this is not at all the case. Apparently their faces are that colour because they are covered with soot as they have been crawling through a lot of chimney’s. Okay.
Every year Sinter Klaas arrives on a boat from Spain, visiting a different Dutch town on each occasion. Luckily enough, this year he just happened to be visiting Groningen; a fairly small university town in the North of Holland, which also just happens to be where my friend currently lives. Sinter Klaas arrives and there is a huge parade and everyone is cheering while the Zwarte Pieten throw little cinnamon biscuits into the crowd. After this has finished and everyone has had a good look at the man of the hour, Sinter Klaas, a concert involving dancing and singing and performers gets under way. Plus all the Zwarte Pieten continue to walk around and hand more biscuits out to children who eagerly run their way with sacks to collect their presents in.
While I was walking around, I couldn’t help but think that this was the weirdest thing I have experienced. This is due mainly to the credit of the creepy, painted faced Zwarte Pieten. Like seriously, they are super creepy. But besides that it was super cool to be apart of another culture’s celebrations. And even better, I had a local to accompany me and give me all the facts. There is also one more Sinter Klaas tradition which I am quite fond of. The giving of a giant chocolate in the shape of your first initial! And it was delicious!
So if you are ever around The Netherlands in mid November, definitely try and make your way to the celebrations.